Female on the Field

Eleanor Engle caused a stir when she appeared on the field with the Harrisburg Senators

March 19, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

The release was terse and understated, but the news rocked the baseball world.

Eleanor Engle, it seemed, was going to play professional baseball. And in 1952, that got everyone’s attention.

On June 24, 1952, from the Offices of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Minor League commissioner George Trautman sent out Bulletin 639, which stated: “Following press reports that the Harrisburg Club, of the Interstate League, had entered into a contract with a woman player, this office contacted that club and has been informed that no such contract has been executed nor has any woman player ever appeared in a game of the Harrisburg club.”

Trautman claimed that his decision was made in consultation with, and backed by, Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford C. Frick.  

Publicity stunt or not, there was a real intention from the Class B Harrisburg Senators to put Eleanor Engle on the field.  Though contention exists as to whether or not she had an actual signed contract in hand, on June 22, 1952, the 26-year old woman was on the field with the team for pre-game infield and batting drills, in full uniform, wearing number 11.

In addition to conflict with league officials, there was also some internal contention about Engle’s place on the club. Harrisburg skipper Buck Etchison exclaimed “She’ll play when hell freezes over… I won’t have a girl playing for me. This is a no-woman’s land and – believe me – I mean it.” 

And with the Senators about to embark on a five-game road trip, Allentown Cardinals manager Whitey Kurowski threatened to boycott the series, simply because Engle was a woman, stating “If she comes into the game I’d protest. I don’t know why, but I’d protest.”

Senators general manager Howard Gordon clearly stated that signing Engle was no publicity stunt, arguing: “This was no gimmick or gag to bolster attendance.  Proof of that is the fact that we announced the signing just before we left on a road trip” and that the team signed her because of her experience in softball and basketball and “because of her ability as demonstrated in workouts at the ballpark.”

These sentiments were echoed by the club’s President Dr. Jay Smith, who argued: “She can hit the ball better than some of the fellows on the club."

Eleanor had no doubt she, and others like her, could compete in the league, and unequivocally stated “I love the game. I think more girls should be playing baseball or at least become interested in the sport.”

Upon her banishment from organized baseball, she was offered a tryout by Jimmie Foxx’s Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but declined, stating “I’m through with baseball.”

The young stenographer from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission never played organized baseball again and stayed out of the public eye. She went on to have a successful career at IBM, retiring in 1990.In 1992, an Executive with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, citing a letter from Commissioner Fay Vincent, stated “Like the Major Leagues, there are no rules prohibiting women from playing in the Minor Leagues. To the contrary, if anyone possesses the skills necessary to play at the professional level, that person would be welcome.”

Freddy Berowski is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum